Rector’s Letter of St. Paul’s Temporary Sunday Worship Suspension and Closure

     The words that are keeping me grounded in Jesus and his calming force during this time of world crisis of the deadly COVID-19 virus are from my favorite hymn. “Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed! For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid; I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.”  We hear the promise of the resurrected Christ in this hymn, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20b
     Jesus gives us courage, absolute love and care. But the threat of this virus to hurt the most vulnerable of our community is alarming, and I rely on the regularly updated reports from the CDC* and world renown epidemiologists to guide our decisions in this time of trial.
     This afternoon, after consulting with other Episcopal clergy, our bishop and our leadership here at St. Paul’s, I have decided that beginning this Sunday, March 15, 2020, St. Paul’s will suspend all worship and close the building until we re-evaluate for Palm Sunday. This is temporary. But I am aware that it is a disruption in our parish life because we will be discontinuing all parish meetings, small group meetings, the Lenten supper and program in addition to closing building use of outside groups.
     I also recognize how this decision may have a negative effect on parishioners who already live alone and might depend on the small group interaction and weekly gathering for worship. I have asked that our Phone Chain and the Lay Pastoral Visitors coordinate an effort to identify those who are alone and isolated for phone contact.
     The disease moves rapidly between people and the precaution to close comes as we learn that minimizing direct contact at the beginning of the spread slows down the infection rate. I do see this difficult time as an opportunity for our faith community to try innovations in how we connect. We already know that our gift as a body of Christ is connection, hospitality, worshiping and helping one another and our neighbor. So, exploring and utilizing new ways to connect is a good thing!
Please see below how we will be using new ways to connect:
WORSHIPEucharist – Join us on Facebook Live Sundays at 10:30 a.m. for worship. I will ask the Eucharistic Ministers to join me for the readings, my homily, the Prayers and the Great Thanksgiving.  We might even sing a little bit! It will be in the Nave, but quite low-key and maybe a bit intimate. I just might speak directly into the iPhone! Connect now with Facebook and “like” us: You may also access a PDF of the service booklet to follow on our website:
Daily Morning Prayer and Compline – I invite you to join me every morning and evening on St. Paul’s Facebook Live starting Monday, March 16 for Morning Prayer and Compline, 7:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.  Make sure you have your Prayer Book with you!
CONNECTING BY PHONE     A team led by Hugh Savage has already made a plan** in the event of a parishioner needing to be quarantined. We are asking for volunteers to help deliver meals and make phone calls. There is a link to that plan below. Because of those who live alone might feel more isolated by our closing, we are asking for volunteers to make phone calls. Please call the Parish Office or email the Parish Office to volunteer: 207-725-5342.  
THE WORK OF THE CHURCH – MEETINGS    We are working on plans to find alternate ways to connect digitally in small groups and for meetings.  More information on this will be coming. 
PARISH OFFICE     We have invested in the capability to work digitally as an administrative staff from our homes. The Parish Office will be utilized only on Sunday and Wednesday, and only by the limited few who need to keep us updated financially and check the mail.
THANK YOU FOR KEEPING UP WITH YOUR PLEDGE     Because we will be continuing to pay our bills, we are even more grateful for electronic giving. And we will be receiving mail in our PO Box 195, so feel free to mail your check. Thank you!
     We all are concerned and working hard to make good decisions for the well-being of our faith community, spiritual, mental and physical. Thank you for working together in these unprecedented circumstances our country and world are facing. I’m more and more proud to be leading the good people of St. Paul’s as your rector.
     Presiding Bishop Curry reminds us of our work together in the strength and love of God:”We are part of the human family of God. Jesus came to show us that his way of love is the way of life. It’s God’s human family. It takes us all. We are in this together. We can walk through this together, and we will find our way in our life together.”
With much love and faith,
*Link to CDC
**St. Paul’s Pastoral Quarantine Plan
Link to Diocesan Resources